Not long after Kenny and Cheryl founded Blue Rock, a neighboring farmer/vintner Jim Ricard introduced them to the philosophy of sustainability. Through his mentorship, they began to understand how developing a harmonious relationship with the environment not only makes a positive impact on the planet, but also creates higher quality wines. He resolved to develop his own unique approach because how you choose to grow something makes a huge difference.
We are farmers. So being out in the fields all the time means we feel the effects of climate change and see it in every vintage,”
We are also a family business: I have young children and care about their future, and we care about the future of the people who work for us as well.”
Sustainability is an ever-evolving process. Every quarter the team evaluates its progress, then fine tunes its practices and makes plans for improvements. Here’s a look at three of Blue Rock’s sustainable efforts:
Developing a Harmonious System
Working with the environment’s natural ecosystem gives us the opportunity to use fewer pesticides. Even if there are pests in the vineyards, maintaining a harmonious system means keeping that population at a sustainable level and allowing the good bugs to eat the unfavorable ones.
You can develop harmonious relationships, so even if you have pests in the vineyards it’s possible to keep the population to a small level that you can live with,”
One way we’ve supported this system is by installing bird boxes along our trellis system. The boxes provide habitat space for local bird species that build nests inside each of them. Several years ago, we installed 20 boxes on site, waited for the birds to populate them, then we added 20 more. During the day, the birds prey on insects in the vineyard that we’d otherwise use pesticides to control. At night, the bird boxes also provide perch space for owls that come out to hunt mice, rats, and snakes.
By doing this, we’ve significantly reduced our pesticide usage and are now almost entirely organic.
Taking Care of the Soil
Taking good care of the soil is another of Blue Rock’s top priorities. Using compost is not only sustainable it’s also the best diet for the vines because it is full of nutrients that feed the soil naturally. When you feed the soil with compost, the resulting wines develop their own personality that tell the story of the land from which they came.
Compost makes the vines much more efficient because they like to struggle. They don’t actually want too much nutrients,”
Traditional farming, on the other hand, employs chemical fertilizers that are fed to the vines through a drip system. The fertilizers are cheaper and provide immediate effects that give the vines a robust, green, and healthy look. This effect, however, is temporary and superficial. It also produces wines that are uniform and have less complex flavor profiles.
Making compost also gives us the opportunity to be more resourceful by reducing waste. Rather than throw away all the spent skins and seeds left over from the winemaking process, we add them to our compost pile, returning those organic materials back to the vineyard. Each year, we also supplement with around 200 tons of purchased compost.
Even if it costs a bit more and takes more time to use compost, our concern for the environment and our desire to produce only quality wines motivates us to care enough to see this through. We are always looking at ways to avoid conventional, chemical-based agriculture.
Using Less Water
In California, the drought makes it absolutely essential to consider ways to cut back on water usage. So, the team continues to look at the amount of water it uses each year and make changes.
Recently, we started using a steam machine to clean and sanitize our barrels. Traditional methods require nine gallons of water to clean one barrel whereas the steam cleaner we use only requires one half-gallon per barrel. The steam cleaners allow us to reduce water usage in this process by 97 percent. This technique also reduces our carbon footprint because we are using less energy to heat the water as well.
We also grew conscious of the fact that most of the water in wineries goes down the drain. To resolve this problem, we installed a water catch system that captures excess irrigation water, purifies it, then pumps it into an on-site reservoir for reuse. Also, in many of our blocks, we’ve installed double drip lines (instead of single drip lines). This system gives us better control over irrigation area and frequency. For example, one block might need more water at certain times of the year than another.
In the not-too-distant future, Blue Rock looks to acquire new equipment that will reduce the number of tractor passes out on the vineyard. Reducing the number of tractor passes would in turn reduce the amount of diesel fuel emitted into the atmosphere by half. The team is also considering infrared drone photography, which will help us easier identify which areas of the vineyard that require more water and which areas require less in order to further our water consumption efforts.